The Ochoa Dojo

On my way to work each day I pass by the street where the old Ochoa Dojo used to be, where I began Goju Karate so many years ago. It went by that name because it was on Ochoa Street in Hato Rey, on the very edge of the expanding Banking Sector known in Spanish as “The Golden Mile.” The street then was still in the rundown part of town, tiny, almost hidden. It was still then a bad and a bit dangerous part of the city, dead after 5 PM, neighboring a workers barrio, “Las Monjas” ( The Nuns). Adult classes started at 6 and ran to 8 PM, when the black and brown belts would train alone. The white belts were told to get there 30-45 minutes earlier to either clean the dojo and/or warm up. Classes were held in groups on either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesdays and Thursdays, Friday off, with Saturday “optional” ( for white belts this meant you had to go). My sensei was Gusi Gonz├ílez, (“the soft sensei ”), and he was usually to be found sitting behind a desk reading a book in a starchy white and ironed Gi. He was never seen to sweat, except for once. Once out of the dressing room you looked to the side and if no one else was there that meant you had to mop and clean the training floor and mirror, etc. Although Gusi Sensei always did find something for you to do. If not you had better look busy warming up and practicing your kata and bunkai. As a rule, you could approach any senior green belt or brown for help on your kata. Warming up was a technique onto itself: too much and you might be winded before it really began, too little and you ran the risk of cramping up. If you had worked up a good sweat and there was time left over before the start, you could socialize a bit, but beware a higher rank caught you fooling around without even a bead of sweat on your brow, he or she would have you gushing like a faucet in no time. A loud “Shugo” would call you to formation. You’d shout back “Ai” and run to your place, according to rank, but you had better be fast about it or be called to task. You would then greet your sensei, the brown belts and then each other, and then on the floor for zazen meditation, a very uncomfortable position where you literally (if you could) sat on the heel of your feet. Then karate began, in earnest.

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